Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Budget Numbers on Vouchers

After reading comments left here and elsewhere, I decided to go do some studying to find the cost of vouchers to the Utah taxpayer. As you might guess, it all depends on which assumptions you make. I'll use the Impartial Analysis in the Voter Information Pamphlet.

In the end though, the question is: If vouchers create an additional tax-payer burden, are vouchers the best way to spend that money?

More specifically: What if we spent the extra cost (if any) of vouchers on teacher raises?

Let's say that there are 30,000 teachers in Utah. (There were about 21,000 in 1999). In the first year, vouchers may only cost the tax payer an extra $3.1 M. Using that number, we could give all teachers about a $100 raise. Not that exciting, but a nice way to say "thanks" to the people who teach our children. The other estimate gives vouchers a $6.0 M net savings to the tax payer. Teachers would need to take a $200 pay cut to fund vouchers the first year. Not that appealing if you are making a teacher salary and if you are trying to actually hire teachers.

It's a lot more interesting in the 13th year (when vouchers are fully phased in). In the 13th year, vouchers cost the taxpayer either an extra $60 M or an extra $43 M depending on which numbers you believe. So the question is: should we use that extra $51.5 M (I used the average) to subsidize private schools or should we use it for public schools? If we use it for public schools, I vote we put it all in teacher raises. Let's say we have 40,000 teachers in 13 years (I made that number up), then we could give all of them a $1287.50 raise. In 2020 dollars, an extra $1287.50 per year won't be a ton of money, but every little bit helps--especially if house prices continue to rise and you want to buy a house.

Vouchers may save money in the first year. But after 13 years, when everyone thinks of them as an entitlement (which is why it's odd that conservative Republicans support them so passionately), they are going to cost additional money. If we are going to spend additional money on education, and I think we should, then let's spend it on making public education better.

And that's why I'll still vote no on vouchers.

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